Strolling down the lovely Kollwitzstrasse one evening, I thought perhaps I was seeing a mirage. Could it really be? An organic herb shop? Just a few short blocks from my flat? I returned during business hours and confirmed that it was really true. Herbathek has that wonderful European health aesthetic: simple, clean, spare. Like herb shops, everywhere, though, it smells like an herb shop. As soon as I walked in, I felt at home.

The woman working there is part of the seeming Berlin-wide campaign to disabuse me of the stereotypes of Germans we Americans learn from our popular culture. As soon as she realized that I was actually coming in to buy specific things, she earnestly and attentively made sure I had everything I needed, by whatever means we needed to communicate. “Kamille” I was able to ask for in German without a problem.

Astragalus was more complicated. I had looked up a translation, but she had never heard that name for it. She had me write down the name and looked it up on her own computer. Unfortunately, I only wrote “astragalus.” She asked if I wanted root or powder. Proud that I understood her, I answered that I wanted root (wurzel) and added that to my pile. Only when I got home did I realize that I had purchased A. glycyphyllos instead of A. membranaceus or propinquus. Ack! I found enough information on it to be certain it is safe, not a loco weed, but beyond that I’m not really sure why they even sell it. As a sweetener for decoction blends, maybe? Or does it have similar immunological properties to the astragalus I am familiar with? None of the texts I have with me or on my computer or that I can find online seem to know. I went ahead and simmered some and it’s tasty enough, so I’ll just use it up and see what I think. If you have any information to add, please do send it along.

The last item on my list was epsom salts. I didn’t bring any because it’s so heavy and in the States, so cheap. As soon as I had arrived in Berlin, I started looking for my trusty remedy for the achiness I was experiencing after the long flight. I could only find tiny little packages of it, and so expensive! I asked the woman at the herb shop if they sold “bittersalz” for bathing and she looked at me like I was stupid. “No, it’s for…” and then she mimed the universal signs for laxative. Instead, she sold me two different types of bath salts. I was so proud of myself that I understood as she told me that the one was with rose, lavender and clove. The other one, though, I had no idea what she was talking about. Crystals? She pulled out a little pamphlet and showed me pictures. It contains ground up crystals, one for each color of the rainbow, for each of the chakras! I went home and took a lovely herb-infused bath. The crystal bath, though, I find myself doing exactly what I warn people NOT to do! Don’t save the precious medicines, use them!

Finally, as she bagged up my purchases, serendipity kicked in and she showed me the samples she was tucking in. Blue Lotus shower gel! I LOVE blue lotus! Argan oil lotion! I love argan oil! Wait a minute, do I just love ALL the herbs?

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